Rating System Could Improve Quality of Early Childhood Education

October 13, 2009 Updated: October 1, 2015
Colorado is implementing a rating system for daycare and preschools. (Terri Heisele/www.madmaven.net)
Colorado is implementing a rating system for daycare and preschools. (Terri Heisele/www.madmaven.net)

COLORADO—For young families, choosing a daycare or preschool can be a tough decision. For parents and child care providers, it is difficult to assess whether a program is providing comprehensive early education.

In 2000, Colorado piloted one of the nation’s first Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS). Administered by a nonprofit, Qualistar Early Learning, Colorado’s QRIS assesses and rates the quality of early child care at public and private preschools and child care centers across the state.

Childcare providers who choose to participate, receive the Qualistar Rating™, a provisional to 4 Star designation, based on how many points a program earns in five areas. The areas measured are learning environment, family partnerships, staff training and education, and adult-to-child ratios and group size throughout the course of the day. Program accreditation with the NAEYC or NAFCC (National Association for the Education of Young Children and National Association for Family Child Care) is also included.

Based on the Qualistar Rating™, the QRIS offers programs a Quality Performance Profile (QPP) which outlines program successes and shortcomings and provides a plan to implement improvements. The system is designed to give parents a way to gauge the quality of care their child receives; offers a measure of accountability to program funders; and helps child-care providers improve their programs.

Colorado is now one of 18 states with quality rating systems. The systems differ from state to state; other states with rating systems are Delaware, District of Columbia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Vermont.

Currently over 25,000 children are enrolled in childcare centers that have
earned a Qualistar Rating™, according to data from Qualistar Early Learning.

Research and participant feedback say that the Qualistar Rating™ does improve programs.

In 2008, the RAND Corporation, a third party research and analysis provider, released a report on Qualistar concluding that the rating system did help programs improve the quality of early learning programs.

Also according to the report, Qualistar’s parent surveys found that “most parents respond positively about their child’s program or teacher regardless of whether the program offers high quality services or not,” which highlights the importance of the quality rating system.  .

Chair of the education department at Naropa University, Deborah Young, spoke with several teachers and administrators of early learning centers rated 1-4 Stars by Qualistar and concurred that, overall, Qualistar effectively improved program quality.

Young said that teachers and program directors wanted more pedagogical support from Qualistar, and some of those interviewed felt that the learning environment “focused mostly on materials, not pedagogy.” Some also wanted more depth and quality of family participation to be measured. She added that lower-income schools, which cannot afford national accreditation and have higher child-adult ratio, are rated lower and tend to improve less.

Another program, Boulder Day Nursery (BDN), a nonprofit daycare in Boulder, Colorado, was first rated four years ago. Executive director of the daycare, Steve Callander, said that the “concrete suggestions and actions for improvement” given by Qualistar increased the quality of the daycare. But he added that BDN did not actually improve its Qualistar rating in following years.

A Qualistar Rating™ costs $1,200 per classroom, which includes an on-site observation and the QPP.

Programs need to be re-rated every two years and rated programs can receive between $1,500 and $3,000 per classroom to make improvements. In Colorado, the funds come from private donors, or from Colorado’s School Readiness and Quality Improvement Program, administered by the Colorado Department of Human Services.

Nonprofit early learning programs can also apply for specialized grants through Qualistar. Rating is a voluntary choice, and childcare providers can also choose whether their rating report is made public.

Qualistar Early Learning is dedicated to improving school-readiness for children 0-5 years (no hyphen) old Qualistar Early Learning is funded through a combination of government contracts, private and foundation grants, special events and individual contributions, and fees for service.